When offering sympathy and condolences, it’s important to keep religious and ethnic customs in mind. This is also true in the case of a Jewish funeral or memorial service where the family is sitting shiva for a period of mourning. If you are considering offering shiva gifts to a family member or friend, understanding the meaning behind this Jewish custom can help you choose a thoughtful and appropriate gift.
What is shiva?
In Hebrew, the word “shiva” means seven. In the case of , shiva refers to the seven-day mourning period for the immediate family of a loved one who has passed away. Shiva is held to create a comforting, supportive environment in which a family can grieve the loss of a parent, sibling, child or other close family member. During the seven-day period, family members and friends gather in a home to offer their sympathy and condolences and lend support after the Jewish funeral.
You may have heard people refer to this practice as “sitting shiva,” as mourners often sit low in seats and avoid all outside distractions so they can focus on their grief and begin to heal from the loss of a loved one. The structured nature of and the traditional routines established by Jewish mourning laws help many Jewish families process their loss and gradually begin to part ways from the deceased.
Jewish law dictates that you must sit shiva if your parent, sibling or child passes away. Other family members, including aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews, may also participate in sitting shiva; however, they are not required to participate, and they are not considered mourners.
During shiva, mourners typically sit on low stools or boxes while visitors come to offerand condolences. Other rituals often depend on which sect of Judaism the family practices. This could include forbidding the study of the Torah, refraining from showering or bathing, and abstaining from marital relations. In many households, mirrors are covered, mourners do not wear leather shoes or accessories, and men do not shave.
Friends and family, both within and outside of the Jewish community, may come to call during shiva—it is actually considered a good deed of kindness and compassion to do so. However, it is not customary for mourners to exchange greetings. Visitors often wait for mourners to initiate conversation rather than approaching the family of the deceased. Visitors may bring shiva gifts, including baskets, food or refreshments to the mourners, and it is customary for family and friends to serve guests, as mourners are not allowed to serve.
Sending shiva gifts
During shiva, mourners are forbidden from partaking in daily activities, including preparing meals. For this reason, food is often provided by family and friends. It’s common for visitors to provide traditional food items, give shiva baskets and platters, or plant a tree in Israel to offer condolences and a token of compassion.
Shiva begins after the burial, with the day of the funeral counting as the first day. The location of the shiva may be announced at the funeral or included in the deceased’s obituary. Families receive shiva gifts during the entire seven-day shiva period. If you are interested in sending a shiva gift, first find the location of the shiva and then be sure your gift will arrive during the week-long period.
Shiva baskets typically contain baked goods, dried fruit, nuts, fresh fruits and/or chocolates. The food items in a shiva basket are designed to provide nourishment and energy to those sitting shiva for the entire seven days. This is a traditional shiva gift and is appropriate to give to a Jewish family in mourning.
It’s also appropriate to bring other food items or meals, including shiva platters. In general, platters include meats, fish, specialty salads, fruits and more. Some visitors prefer toto help the family stay nourished without worrying about food preparation.
Another time-honoured tradition is to plant a tree in Israel in memory of the deceased. Typically, if you order a tree to be planted, the family will receive a certificate to commemorate your gift along with a personal message from you.
Choosing your shiva gift or basket
We understand it can be difficult to adhere to religious customs that may be unfamiliar to you. Whether it’s learning about or choosing a shiva gift, a Dignity Memorial professional can help you find appropriate ways to offer condolences.
Through our partnership with 1-800-FLOWERS, those paying condolences during shiva can choose a basket, plant, or gift to send to mourners who are sitting shiva. Kosher and non-kosher shiva baskets and shiva platters are available and include everything from bagels and spreads, to salmon platters, to chocolates, fruit baskets, assortments of nuts and more. Priority handling helps ensure that a shiva gift arrives on time and to your complete satisfaction.
Dignity Memorial professionals believe every life should be honoured with compassion, and every service should reflect the unique traditions and beliefs of the individual. When you choose a Dignity Memorial funeral home or cemetery provider, you’ll not only receive access to the many exclusive benefits of the Dignity Memorial network, but also the assurance that you and your family will be served in accordance with the Jewish funeral and burial customs that are important to you.